Worlds Collide: When Pop Culture Meets American Football

The worlds of sport and popular culture have been combined and entwined for much longer than any of us would really appreciate. You’d think it was a fairly modern phenomenon, something that might have started to happen in the last 30/40 years. In fact, it goes back much much further. The first instant of a ‘sports film’ being made was during the silent film era, over 100 years ago, with the 1915 Charlie Chaplin film The Champion is thought to be one of the very first. In this film, Chaplin becomes a world champion boxer, after putting a horseshoe in one of his gloves to help him hit harder.

Boxing is a film that has been portrayed on screen hundreds of times. The most famous examples would be the Rocky film series, many of which were released during the 1980s, and the Martin Scorcese effort Raging Bull. Released in 1980, which is widely accepted as not only one of the best films from the 80s but one of the best sports films of all time. The drama and characters that boxing is full of makes it a very cinematic sport, so it is no wonder that boxing films come out so frequently, and often prove very popular.

Other sports seem to struggle when they are portrayed on film. Soccer is certainly one of them, as it seems to never seem very realistic whenever it appears in the movies. There are notable exceptions of great soccer films, such as The Damned United and Escape to Victory, released in 1981, but they have great stories and casts and don’t focus the screen time too much on the actual sport of soccer itself.


Given its popularity in the United States, it is no surprise to see American football and the NFL appearing consistently in both movies and on television. There are some truly great football films, that capture the intricacies not only of the playing of the sport, but everything that surrounds it, such as how betting and NFL points spreads work in the real world. Given there are hundreds of films and tv shows to pick from, we will focus on just a few of the best examples of when football has appeared on our screens.

Big Hollywood productions

There have been a number of big Hollywood films showing football in recent years, with big movie stars pulling on some pads and showing what they’ve got. One such example is All the Right Moves, released in 1983, starring Tom Cruise. While he is best known nowadays for his action roles, back in the 80s Cruise appeared in smaller budge & more personable films, such as Risky Business (1983) Cocktail (1988) and Born on the Fourth of July (1989). All the Right Moves saw Cruise play a Serbian-American high school defensive back, who is trying to earn a scholarship to play football at college.

George Clooney is one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, beginning his career in TV shows such as E/R and Roseanne in the 80s. He also directed the 2008 film Leatherheads, which focused on the early years of professional football. Set in 1925, also starring Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski, it is a story that is loosely based on George Halas’s signing of the University of Illinois star Harold “Red” Grange, who went on to play for the Chicago Bears.

Mark Wahlberg is a huge action movie star these days, though he first became famous in the 80s as a rapper when he was known as Marky Mark. He has since moved into film, and appeared in many Hollywood blockbusters. He also appeared in Invincible, the remarkable true story of Vince Papale who played for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1970s, after going along to public tryouts. It has a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is certainly worth watching.

Smaller screen examples

Of course, it is not just big Hollywood productions where American football is seen, there are also countless examples of TV shows being based around the sport. Ballers, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is incredibly popular, which sees Johnson as a retired NFL player who then becomes a financial manager of some of the sports’ current stars. Many real-life players appear in the show, such as Terrell Suggs and Jason Taylor.

Going back to the 1980s, the popular show 1st & Ten began broadcasting in 1984 and ran for six seasons. Starring Delta Burke and former NFL player O.J. Simpson, the show followed a fiction team the California Bulls, as Diane Barrow (Burke) becomes the owner of the team after a divorce settlement.

So clearly there are many positive times where American football has become part of our popular culture (as well as some pretty bad examples too!). Given the popularity of these movies and shows, we imagine this trend will continue for years to come.

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